ACC Game On will periodically review recent games involving ACC teams and take a look forward at key upcoming matchups.
The Atlantic Coast Conference remains unbeaten, although it took a timely jumper by North Carolina State’s DeshawnPainter to maintain the currently perfect winning record of all conference teams. The Wolfpack’s game against Princeton was the highlight of a mostly lackluster slate of games last night. Mark Gottfried‘s team, already playing without C.J. Leslie, lost Scott Wood to an ankle injury two minutes into it. That, combined with insanely hot shooting by Princeton in the first half made a manageable game suddenly very challenging. Despite being down by three at the half, N.C. State rallied behind the sterling play of Lorenzo Brown to pull out the win in the final seconds. Brown led the team in points, assists and steals, contributing sixteen, eight, and five respectively, as well as snagging five rebounds.
Lorenzo Brown Came Up Big For N.C. State
Clemson and Florida State easily took down their opponents, using highly effective offenses to complement already lethally effective defenses. Both teams shot over 50% from the field, with Florida State managing an impressive 57.1%. For Clemson, the all-round play of Tanner Smith has continued to help the Tigers in myriad ways. Smith led his team in assists and rebounding while also scoring eleven points.
Wake Forest had a rough season this past year. No, wait, that’s not right. Bad? Terrible? Catastrophic? I’m having a hard time capturing the scale and scope of how bad last season was. The ideal word would capture a sort of hopeless, inevitable despondency mixed with mind-blowing, frustrating futility. Imagine a turtle trying to climb up a hill. Then the camera zooms out, and the turtle is at the bottom of the Grand Canyon trying to scale the side of a cliff. Now imagine that the turtle accidentally falls onto it’s back. Now imagine a mob gathering at the top of the cliff to push boulders down onto the turtle. That’s how last season felt in Winston-Salem.
Jeff Bzdelik Has A Lot Of Work To Do After Last Season's Disaster
Wake Forest had a single win in the Atlantic Coast Conference against lowly Virginia. Wake Forest won a single game away from its home court: a neutral court win against Elon at Greensboro Coliseum. Wake Forest stunned the world by losing the season opener against Stetson and then proceeded to lose to Winthrop, UNC Wilmington, and Presbyterian. They also lost to a number of very good basketball teams, but that kind of goes without saying when Stetson and Presbyterian are giving you the business on your floor. Ken Pomeroy’s basketball efficiency statistics demonstrate that this wasn’t just a few unlucky games. This was a systemic and utter, season-long failure. Every 16-seed in last year’s NCAA tournament was significantly better than Wake Forest. For the record, that group included UNC-Asheville, Boston University, Arkansas-Little Rock, and Texas-San Antonio. Last season, in short, was an unmitigated disaster. I hope we’re clear on that. That said, this summer may have been worse.
The ACC had a down year though North Carolina’s Kendall Marshall-ledresurgence and Florida State’s Sweet Sixteen appearance helped a little bit. Before and during the season, Duke was the runaway favorite in the conference: Kyrie Irving’s toe injury obviously was the pivotal point that brought Duke back down to earth. Equally pivotal (in the reverse direction) was Marshall’s move to starting point guard for North Carolina. With Larry Drew II at the helm, there is no way the Tar Heels could have come close to surpassing Duke for the regular season title. The down year did not really surprise most people, and despite lofty preseason expectations (read: people forgot how highly rated North Carolina was to start the season) I think the perception is that the league at least lived up to preseason expectations with a couple of notable exceptions: NC State, Wake Forest, and Virginia Tech. NC State had NCAA Tournament talent, but did not come anywhere close to sniffing the Big Dance; Wake was arguably the worst major conference team in the country; and Virginia Tech once again found itself very highly seeded in the NIT. On the flip side, Clemson and Florida State both exceeded expectations.
Roy Williams and Kendall Marshall led a mid-season resurgence that resulted in a trip the Elite Eight. (News Observer/Robert Willitt)
It’s October. The leaves are starting to turn colors. Halloween candy is already in the stores. There have been a few nights where you may have even turned on the heat. Midnight Madness is imminent and RTC is full bore into the 2010-11 Season Preview materials. For the second October in a row, we’re bringing you our RTC Impact Players series. The braintrust has gone back and forth on this and we’ve finally settled on a group of sixty players throughout ten geographic regions of the country (five starters plus a sixth man) to represent the who and where of players you should be watching this season. Seriously, if you haven’t seen every one of these players ball at least once by the end of February, then you need to figure out a way to get a better television package. As always in a subjective analysis such as this, some of our decisions were difficult; many others were quite easy. What we can say without reservation is that there is great talent in every corner of this nation of ours, and we’ll do our best to excavate it over the next five weeks in this series that will publish on Mondays and Thursdays. Each time, we’ll also provide a list of some of the near-misses as well as the players we considered in each region, but as always, we welcome you guys, our faithful and very knowledgeable readers, to critique us in the comments.
Kyrie Irving – Fr, G – Duke. To get an idea how highly touted Kyrie Irving is, consider this: coming off a season where Duke won the national title and only lost one key playmaker on offense, most people believe that the Blue Devils will run their offense through the talented freshman from New Jersey who many recruiting experts rank among the best to ever come from the state that has produced so many great college players, including Duke legends Bobby Hurley and Jason Williams. His development during his sophomore year of high school when ESPN analysts stated that he “would be a top 300 player nationally in the 2010 class” and then said a few months later “could be an impact player in the Atlantic 10 or a high-major role player” to his senior year when he was a top five recruit (#1 according to some services) and those same recruiting analysts were stating “it will be shocking if he isn’t an all-conference performer and possible all-american his freshman season” portends the potential for his development into a truly special player. Irving is one of the rare players who arrives on campus with the ability to both score and distribute the ball to his teammates. After all the talk about how Coach K had lost his edge in recruiting, Irving might be his most dynamic recruit since Williams arrived in Durham back in 1999. Despite only being on campus for a few months, his Blue Devil teammates have probably already begun to appreciate his high basketball IQ, competitiveness, and all-around ability. Even though many will question his inclusion on our Impact Player team over his more proven teammate Nolan Smith, Irving has demonstrated a skill set in high school that goes beyond what Smith has demonstrated even with three additional years of experience under the watchful eye of Coach K. If Irving is able to make a smooth transition from the high school game to the college game (and having Singler, Smith, Seth Curry, and the Plumlees around should help), his game could make the Blue Devils heavy favorites to repeat when March arrives. With Irving’s game we don’t think it will be question of if but rather when he feels truly comfortable at the college level, so all the Duke haters should be preparing for a long season ahead.
Kyrie Irving Could be the Best Duke Guard Since J-Will
Malcolm Delaney – Sr, G – Virginia Tech. If you’re a Hokies fan and a Twitter fiend, back on May 8th you were probably just a little surprised but very happy that Malcolm Delaney tweeted that he was going to put off NBA riches for a year and return to school for his senior season. Nobody, however, could have been happier than Virginia Tech head coach Seth Greenberg. We shudder to think at the number of blood pressure medications that man must be taking these days, having seemingly been the victim of more last-second heartbreakers and burst NCAA Tournament bubbles (are we allowed to refer to “the bubble” in October?) than any one man should ever be expected to endure, but the return of Delaney to Blacksburg should have lowered Greenberg’s systolic by about 20 points. It probably went back up over the summer, though, after Greenberg lost two of his forwards for the season — specifically presumptive sixth man J.T. Thompson to a left ACL tear and Allan Chaney to viral myocarditis (a condition slightly less than 0.6% of all people in America have) — and has another one in Cadarian Raines recovering from surgery in March to repair a re-fractured left foot. The importance of Delaney, then, and the impact he’ll have in this geographical region become obvious. VT will have to go small, and that means more touches for Malcolm, who we’re guessing will have no problem taking on more responsibility in terms of both scoring and rebounding, and we’re saying this about the top scorer in the ACC last season (20.2 PPG). He played an average of 35.8 MPG last year (4th ACC, 58th nationally) and we wonder if he’ll even sit at all this season. Most importantly, if the Hokies are going to attempt to return to only their second NCAA Tournament in the last 15 years (and what would be Delaney’s first), Greenberg will be counting on emotional and vocal leadership on the floor and in the locker room from Delaney, his RTC South Atlantic Impact Player and ACC Player of the Year candidate.
We’re down to the final two of the RTC Big Four State Tournament, and this is pretty much where we all expected to be when the brackets were released, right? #1 Indiana will take on #2 North Carolina in a classic battle of roundball states chock full of schools who take their hoops very seriously. There are several interesting storylines here, not least of which is the unusual circumstance that Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski and Butler’s Brad Stevens will once again face off with a national title on the line and several of the same players in tow (Duke’s Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler; Butler’s Shelvin Mack and Matt Howard). Look at these lineups! There are potentially five to seven 2010-11 all-america candidates on these rosters — wouldn’t you pay top dollar to see this game? Our current bracket is below, so let’s tip this one off…
Championship Game(Semifinal fan vote pct. listed)
#1 Indiana (76%) vs. #2 North Carolina (78%)
These two teams come into the final having not really been tested much throughout this tournament. #2 North Carolina has won its three games by an average of 18.7 points, while #1 Indiana sports a 13.7 point scoring margin, although the Hoosier State had a tough semifinal game against an athletic and scrappy #4 Texas squad. Nevertheless, no one will argue that these two teams shouldn’t be here — it’s fitting that the two most talented teams have generally bulldozed their way to the championship game. As for venue, both coaches eschewed the sellout crowd of 75,000 fans in a football stadium they could have filled for this game, instead agreeing to meet in a seedy high school gym on the south side of Chicago with three refs and a couple of television cameras.
Stevens’ team draws first blood, as Mack and Robbie Hummel work the two-man game to perfection for a couple of early threes, and for the first time in the tournament, future NBA lottery picks Harrison Barnes and Kyrie Irving appear a little rattled by the pressure of the situation. Coach K, always tuned into his players’ emotions, senses their nervousness and decides to go primarily with his experienced guys for the remainder of the half. That helps stem the tide somewhat as Smith, CJ Harris and Singler start finding their spots, but Indiana has figured out that the interior defense of Tracy Smith and Tyler Zeller is not fleet-footed enough to deal with several quick catch-and-shoots by Matt Howard and JaJuan Johnson in the post. The rest of the half falls into a back-and-forth affair where both teams have trouble consistently scoring, but Indiana heads into halftime with an eight-point lead.
Stevens & K Meet Again, This Time in an Empty Gym (AP/A. Sancetta)
The second half opens in a reversal of the first, with North Carolina’s Barnes and Irving showing that missing confidence and exploding to the rim on drives for several easy buckets off turnovers. Before you know it, when Tracy Smith corrals an offensive rebound and powers back up through a sea of arms for a basket and-one, NC has tied the game and has all of the momentum. The problem for Coach K’s team is that his big men simply cannot stop Howard and Johnson in the post. Every time it appears that North Carolina is putting together a big run, Stevens smartly calls for the ball to go inside to one of his post players and good things continue to happen. As a result of this strategy, Smith and Zeller find themselves in serious foul trouble with four each heading into the last ten minutes of the game.
The game tilts back and forth throughout the remainder of the second half until Indiana has the ball in Shelvin Mack’s hands with just under a minute to play, down two. Working the high-screen and roll with Tim Abromaitis, Mack finds a seam in the lane and floats a runner through the net as the shot clock expires to tie the ballgame. Coach K has been here a million times, so he calls timeout and sets up his final possession. He looks at his offensive options and his first inclination is to go with one of his own tried-and-true stars in Singler; but he also remembers his experiences with USA Basketball and, recognizing that Barnes has come on strong in the second half, he gives the ball to rival Roy Williams’ player (and the most talented on his team). Smith will run the play — the first option will be Barnes on the wing, looking to create, with Singler ready for the kickout and everyone else crashing the boards.
The plan to kill clock until around six seconds remaining works perfectly, although Stevens surprises K by throwing a matchup zone at North Carolina, perhaps hoping and anticipating an overpenetration mistake by the still-wet-behind-the-ears Barnes. The UNC freshman receives the ball on the right wing and wastes no time in using his explosive first step to get into the lane. As the Indiana defense predictably collapses, Barnes elevates and somehow twists his body in the air to avoid slamming into Howard and Hummel, who had created a wall of long arms, pasty skin and hair to stop the soaring Barnes. He adjusts his shooting arm to recover from the mid-air change of direction, and gently lofts a lefty layup over the outstretched arms of Abromaitis coming over to help. Bodies hit the floor in unison as the ball falls through the net, and everyone across America watching the game on television waits for the inevitable block/charge call. But there is no call to be had today — the refs let them play, and North Carolina takes a two-point lead with a mere 1.2 seconds remaining.
Brad Stevens is no dummy. He knows that 1.2 seconds is an eternity if executed correctly. After Indiana’s timeout, Hummel throws a strike to his teammate E’Twaun Moore just beyond halfcourt on the right side, who immediately calls timeout again. With 0.8 seconds remaining, Indiana has a reasonable attempt to put up a good last shot. Who do they go to? Stevens draws up a clever play that nobody, not even Coach K, seems to have ever seen used before. He runs Mack off of a triple-screen to get him open for the final shot, but when the ball is entered into play, he is only the decoy — as everyone for North Carolina rushes to stay with Mack and Hummel as the secondary option on the perimeter, the ball sails over everyone’s head into a camped-out Howard (the original screener who had leaked away in the maelstrom) who has a wide-open twelve-footer from the left baseline. The shot looks pure in the air, but maybe he was a little shocked to be so open at that juncture, because it ultimately rattles out, giving North Carolina the two-point win and the championship.
What a game, and what a tournament. How do you see it turning out?
Ed. Note: thanks to everyone who participated in this feature. We had a blast putting it together and playing it out. Maybe we’ll bring it back next year, although we suspect that Indiana and North Carolina will be two of the top several seeds just about every year.
We’re now down to the Final Four of the RTC Big Four State Tournament. Last week was the quarterfinal round, and we saw as three of the favorites (#1 Indiana, #2 North Carolina, #4 Texas) advanced to the Final Four while #3 Pennsylvania was downed at the buzzer by upstart #6 Florida. There was a very strong public consensus among the top two seeds advancing (85% and 90%, respectively), while the fan vote was a little less confident in Pennsylvania (70%) and Texas (72%). Of course, we here at RTC had the Sunshine State (with afternoon rain) squad coached by Billy Donovan springing the upset over PA, so it’ll be interesting to see how far we think they can continue to their run. Here’s our current bracket, with the F4 breakdowns below.
Final Four Matchups(Quarterfinal fan vote pct. listed)
#1 Indiana (85%) vs. #4 Texas (72%)
Nitpicking is the only way to find weaknesses on the rosters of Indiana and Texas, two hoops-loaded states with a great deal of pride on the line in this anticipated semifinal matchup. The raw talent level of Texas should prove Indiana’s stiffest challenge thus far in the tournament. From the Nate Robinson-style leaping ability of UTEP’s Randy Culpepper to the physicality and shooting prowess of Texas’ Jordan Hamilton to the Kevin Garnett comparisons that Baylor’s Perry Jones is receiving before he makes his Bears debut, Indiana’s status as tournament champion favorite is in serious jeopardy. This especially rings true when Texas comes out of the gates sprinting up and down the floor, boosted by the red-hot shooting of LaceDarius Dunn, the preseason Big 12 Player of the Year candidate and the school’s all-time leader in threes made. Gary Johnson takes Robbie Hummel to the hole on a spin move and the foul. Dunn throws an alley-oop to Jones that gets the crowd on their feet and forces Indiana to use a timeout. Culpepper races from end to end for the flush. A ten-point halftime lead gives the top seed a moment of pause in the locker room.
Here’s the point where Indiana’s senior-laden roster and big-game experience becomes a factor. The collected demeanor of Brad Stevens in the locker room calms his troops, the gameplan is slightly tweaked to force Texas into a halfcourt game, the physicality of Indiana’s Shelvin Mack and Hummel is asserted, and Indiana slowly but surely drains the deficit. The steady and levelheaded Mack leads the force, hitting clutch mid-range jumpers as the shot clock winds down. Just when Texas is about to corral the momentum once again, a JaJuan Johnson rejection of Jones effectively punks the youngster. As the score inches closer and the pressure mounts on such a monumental stage, it’s Texas taking their fair share of poor shots while Indiana lives at the free throw line, led by Hummel at 90%. His four consecutive makes seals the deal and Indiana escapes by a slim margin for a spot in the finals.
RTC Choice: Indiana 68, Texas 65
#2 North Carolina (90%) vs. #6 Florida (30%)
In an all-too-familiar situation when a Cinderella makes a run to the national semifinals, they usually come up against a seasoned, experienced and talented team who expected to be there all season long. The result is not often pleasant for the underdog, who quickly realizes that it’s in over its head and needs to make hasty plans for a return flight later that evening. This is what Billy Donovan’s team faced in matching up against the boatload of NBA lottery pick-level talent that North Carolina threw at them. Predictably, the game was over in the first ten minutes. The offensive firepower of Kyle Singler, Harrison Barnes and Tracy Smith got off early inside the paint, but it was a quick whistle (actually, series of whistles) on Florida’s Chris Singleton that set the tone early. Three quick fouls meant that the inside defensive presence that Florida was relying upon to slow down the North Carolina bigs was no longer available. Gus Gilchrist and Chandler Parsons, while capable offensive players, are not known for their ability to stop people, especially players the caliber that NC brings to bear.
By halftime, Florida was already down 22 points and not only looked demoralized but also emotionally and mentally exhausted from their previous nailbiters in this tournament. From that point on, Coach K put his guys into a cruise control situation, running clock but finding their spots, as Florida tried desperately to cut into the lead. A couple of times Donovan’s team had cut the margin down to a 12-point game, only to watch helplessly as Nolan Smith or CJ Harris drained a three or Barnes slashed his way to another dunk. There was no confusion as to who the better team was in this particular game, and North Carolina moved on to the tournament finals to play the top overall seed Indiana in an upcoming battle of epic proportions. Coach K vs. Brad Stevens; Nolan Smith vs. Shelvin Mack — where have we seen that before?
We’re back with the next round of the RTC Big Four State Tournament. As you likely recall, last week we broke down eight first round matchups between the top sixteen states containing at least four NCAA D1 programs, utilizing star players from each of those programs to come up with the bracket that appears below. We didn’t always agree with the fan vote, picking a couple of true upsets (#9 Illinois over #8 Michigan, and #12 Virginia over #5 Ohio), and disagreeing with the fans on another (#6 Florida over #11 Kentucky). Regardless, we endeavor to carry on.
We’ll break down the semifinals and finals next week. Be sure to get your votes in on these matchups below.
Quarterfinal Matchups(1st Round fan vote pct. listed)
#1 Indiana (92%) vs. #9 Illinois (24%)
The plucky underdog Illinois meets another Midwestern foe after downing Michigan in the opening round. This time around, the challenge will be even stiffer — the top seeded and tournament favorite Hoosier State representatives. The primary reason for Illinois’ first round win was the perimeter trio of Demetri McCamey, Michael Thompson and John Shurna. Different story against Indiana; the hard-nosed play of Shelvin Mack, the scoring ability of E’Twaun Moore, the all-around game of Tim Abromaitis and even Robbie Hummel’s propensity to step out to the perimeter — his first half performance against Ohio State one that sticks out — provides the Hoosiers more than enough firepower out of their guards to counteract Illinois. Southern Illinois’ Carlton Fay attempting to guard potential first team All-America Hummel is also a key factor. Since it’s doubtful Fay can hang with the multifaceted Boilermaker, we suspect that the Purdue senior explodes for a big shooting night and a near triple-double. There’s simply way too much firepower with JaJuan Johnson coming off the bench in this one. Indiana cruises again.
RTC Choice: Indiana 83, Illinois 67.
#4 Texas (67%) vs. #12 Virginia (22%)
Virginia was the Cinderella story of the first round, continuing the ever-popular 5/12 upset trend and knocking off favored Ohio on the heels of their backcourt consisting of Malcolm Delaney and Kevin Anderson. Those two won’t have it as easy against the twosome that gives a whole new meaning to Don’t Mess with Texas. High-flying Randy Culpepper of UTEP could be one of the best non-BCS players in the land this season. He’ll team with Baylor’s LaceDarius Dunn and Texas’ Jordan Hamilton on the wing, meaning scoring can come often and in bunches for this Texas squad. There’s too much athleticism across the board for the Virginia frontline of Mike Scott, Jeff Allen and Justin Harper to contain. Look for Texas to pound the ball inside early to Perry Jones and Gary Johnson to utilize these extreme mismatches and lure the Virginia bigs into foul trouble. If this happens, let the dunkfest ensue. Culpepper and Dunn provide the scoring punch outside to complement the forwards, making this even more of a foregone conclusion, especially since Delaney can’t hang with the crafty Dunn defensively. Texas advances to the semifinals in relatively easy fashion.
A couple of weeks ago we broke down what will arguably be the top holiday tournament of the 2010-11 season, the Maui Invitational. The other Big Daddy of pre-conference tourneys, the Preseason NIT, released its brackets today, and at first blush, the field is not all that exciting this year. Take a look at the below bracket and tell us where you get a little tingly thinking about the downstream matchup possibilities?
The only legitimate national contender in the field is Villanova, with 105-point scorerCorey Fisher returning along with a whole cadre of talented inside players including Mouph Yarou, Antonio Pena and Isaiah Armwood. If the expectation is that productive freshmen become superb sophomores, then the Wildcats are a team with as much upside as anyone else in America next year. The dropoff in talent from VU to the next best squad, Tennessee, is significant, but the real precipice occurs after that point. The Vols lost Wayne Chism, JP Prince and Bobby Maze from their Elite Eight team, but they bring back star-in-waiting Scotty Hopson and add Tobias Harris to a solid cast of role players, so UT has a chance to be very good again. We’d expect these two teams to sleepwalk their way to the finals on Black Friday in Madison Square Garden.
The third and fourth seeds and regional hosts Wake Forest and UCLA are two of the weaker teams we’ve seen in this position in some time. Neither is a likely NCAA Tournament team next season, and it says here that both schools will have trouble getting out of their PNIT region despite the fact that it will be played on their home courts. Wake returns two promising sophomores in CJ Harris and Ari Stewart, but the loss of all-ACC players Al-Farouq Aminu and Ish Smith, not to mention head coach Dino Gaudio (replaced by Jeff Bzdelik), will be too much for the duo to bear so early in the season — expect the Deacs to crumble against a strong VCU team with something to prove. UCLA returns more than Wake Forest, but if you’ve somehow been in a fugue state for the past twelve months, the Bruin program has fallen on hard times due to poor recruiting, team chemistry and injury problems. The talented but enigmatic Malcolm Lee returns along with several other young players (Tyler Honeycutt, Reeves Nelson, Jerime Anderson), but the addition of five-star stud Josh Smith to the mix isn’t going to suddenly remind UCLA how to win games. A second-round matchup against Pacific, with its top four players returning, or Nevada, always looking for a Pac-10 scalp as a member of the overlooked WAC, will be difficult for UCLA, even in Pauley Pavilion.
The one thing we will continue to give the PNIT folks credit for, though, is that they actually still understand the meaning of the word “Tournament.” Yeah, yeah, we know that other entities get around it by using words like “Classic,” but a bracket is a bracket and it really only makes sense when a team advances into the later rounds by, you know, winning. There are no guarantees — Villanova, Tennessee, Wake Forest and UCLA will actually have to beat two visiting teams to earn the privilege of a trip to New York City during Thanksgiving week to play in the World’s Most Famous Arena. So from that perspective, we’ll still enjoy watching the Preseason NIT this November if for no other reason than they get it right.
Black Wednesday in RTP. A bit of hyperbole here, as we make reference to Black Sunday (March 11, 1979), the infamous day when both UNC and Duke lost NCAA second round games on the same afternoon. Still, tonight’s surprising losses by both Carolina and Duke to the two ‘other’ schools in the traditional Big Four represent the first time in nearly seven years that they both lost conference games on the same night. How on earth could this have happened? Are big scary red/black aliens shaped in Deacon and Wolf form landing tonight to take us all away? Will tears of blood flow from the sky as God weeps for us? Will high-profile recruits clown Uncle Roy? These are all good questions for the people of central North Carolina to be asking tonight, so we’re here to help them make sense of it all. (ed. note: what? NC State wasn’t shipped out to somewhere like Pembroke in the late 80s?)
NC State Exorcised Their Devils Tonight (N&O/Ethan Hyman)
NC State 88, #6 Duke 74. There were a lot of shocking parts to this game, but by far the biggest shocker was the knife-through-butter ease by which NC State repeatedly shredded the Duke defense. The Devils have held their opponents to 41% from inside the arc and 28% from beyond it all season long, but the Pack paid that no mind, shooting a red-hot 58% for the entire game and hitting five timely threes on a reasonable twelve attempts. Even the expected collapse that everyone thought was coming immediately after halftime (and Nolan Smith’s ridiculous catch-and-shoot trey just before the buzzer) never materialized. Instead it was NC State that appeared to have the confidence, pushing their lead back out into double-digits and answering the Devils each and every time they cut the lead to eight. The night belonged to NCSU’s Tracy Smith, the 22d birthday boy who could seemingly do no wrong, dropping 23/5 on 10-12 FGs on a variety of post moves and drives to the hole. The Duke defense, one of the very best in the nation coming into tonight, seemed bewildered and confused by Smith all night long, almost as if he’d been left off the scouting report. Coach K’s group allowed over a point per possession for just the fourth time all season, and at 1.23 PPP tonight, it was easily their worst performance of the year. Something tells us that their level of effort on that end will not go unnoticed by Krzyzewski. With the win, NC State moves to 2-3 in the ACC race, and would you believe that the leaders of this conference are Virginia (3-0) and Maryland (2-1)? Is it too early to start calling the ACC the Pac-10 East with its nuttiness so far this year? Final thought: nice RTC, State students. And, deserved (start at 2:50).
Wake Forest 82, #23 UNC 69. Freshmen? No, I don’t think so. Wake’s C.J. Harris and Ari Stewart were impolite guests in their first visit to the Dean Dome as collegians, to say the least. In the first half, Wake cajoled UNC into questionable shot selection while taking good ones themselves and went into halftime with a three point lead. When UNC came out quickly early in the second and almost immediately made it just a one-point deficit, you got the feeling that Roy Williams had indeed gone into his magic bag and come up with a speech that would now put things right. You could feel that UNC had finally shown up and that they — the ranked team, at home — would redeem themselves, take advantage of the young Deacon guards, pull out a win, and SURELY avoid a three-game losing streak, something that’s never happened here under Roy Williams. It cannot happen here under Roy Williams. Right? RIGHT? Well… it just did. Harris and Stewart looked like anything but frosh in the second half right about the time UNC started getting their legs under them. First, almost halfway through the second half, it was Stewart. A three. Then another. Then ANOTHER. That last one is in caps because it was from about 22 feet, finishing the triple of triples that came in a span of a minute and 26 seconds. About a minute later, it was Harris, drilling two straight from the same spot on the left. Those five threes were courtesy of assists from four different players. At that point the Deacons’ lead was 15, and the Tar Heels were done. A couple of minutes later Ish Smith — a terror tonight, with 20/7/6 on 9-17 shooting — drilled another three for the official dagger. A team on which each player knows and cherishes his role is a dangerous thing, and that is this Wake Forest team — at least, it was tonight. Aside from the aforementioned guards providing the outside threat, Smith distributes well and is a heady senior point guard. Al-Farouq Aminu, whose 13/11 we haven’t even mentioned, is a fine interior defender and rebounds like a maniac. Chas McFarland might not take many shots (1-3 tonight), but he gets to the line and hits the boards (ten against UNC) and anchors the defense inside with Aminu. And they seem to be buying in to what Dino Gaudio is teaching. Sure, the Heels didn’t have Ed Davis, and this might have been Wake’s best outside shooting night of the season. But this is North Carolina. At home. What can you say about this team at this point? Is Roy about to lose them? It’s been an incredible three-year run. But sometimes after such a period of sustained success, when hard times arrive it can be easy for a young team to fold. They’re 12-7 and 1-3 in the ACC, have twelve games left, with seven of them away. A split does not get them in. The Heels have six days off, and it’s a good time for it. They have a lot to think about. It’s soul-searching time.
Both Wake Forest and NC State enter ACC conference play as relative unknowns: sure, the Demon Deacons beat Gonzaga in Spokane, but what are we to make of their double-digit homecourt loss to William & Mary that same week? Similarly, NC State’s victory over Marquette on the road was noteworthy, but their less than impressive victory in their last game over Elon, one of the weakest teams in the nation, has Wolfpackers scratching their heads. Wake enters Sunday’s game at 7-2, riding on the back of Al-Farouq Aminu (15.9 ppg, 10.4 rpg). Ishmael Smith has increased his production for the Deacs, but the true compliment to Aminu this season has been freshman guard C.J. Harris’ shooting, bringing 12.4 ppg while shooting 53% from the floor. State will rely on Tracy Smith and his 18.3 ppg and 9.4 rpg to go toe-to-toe with Wake Forest’s Aminu. In the end though, offensive rebounds could be the factor in this matchup: neither team has shot the ball well this season, Wake is the tallest team in the nation and rebounds accordingly, while NC State has been below average on the defensive glass. Both Dino Gaudio and Sidney Lowe are under pressure from the fanbase to produce after underperforming last year. For both teams, a win in Winston-Salem would be a good place to start for proving they belong in the top half of the ACC.